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Princess Propeganda

A couple of weeks ago I read the book Cinderella Ate my Daughter: Dispatches from the new Girlie-Girl Culture and it pretty much terrified me.

I have a 9 month old daughter, and already I am worried about the implications of our culture’s obsession with gender disparity.

Think I’m overreacting? When was the last time you stepped into a Pottery Barn Kids? OK, if you are like me the answer is never. But trust me, you should. As Peggy Orenstein, the author of the above book says, it’s like apartheid in there. Pink and purple and flowers and fairy’s for girls–blue and green and sailboats and trucks for boys. But really, you could go into any major toy store and notice the difference. Being obsessed with princess culture is now an established rite of passage for any girl in America, and it is seemingly inescapable.

But why should I care if my daughter loves princesses and all that comes with it? Is there anything so wrong about glitz and glitter and pastels and wands and dressing up? Am I just turning into one of “those” mothers who don’t let their kids watch T.V. and only serve PB&J’s on sprouted-whole-wheat bread? Do I just need to take a deep breath and calm down?


But maybe my unease with the girlie-girl phenomenon is coming from a real need to understand gender differences as they relate to both me and my daughter.

The problem of princess propaganda lies in the narrowing of what little girls choose to play with, the narrowing of the stories they reenact, the messages they are told that define what a girl is. When I was little, I rode a gray bike, played with dolls and stuffed rabbits equally, and generally mucked around outdoors all the time. I loved Disney movies like any good American child, but I remember distinctly only pretending to be Ariel as a mermaid. As soon as she got legs and lost her voice she was boring. Does this make me a tomboy? Compared to little girls today, it does. By catering to what little girls want, companies have systematically eliminated all but the best-sellers from their toy lines. And princesses sell a lot of sippy cups.

Why does this happen? It’s no coincidence that marketers are targeting younger and younger children. As they leave toddlerhood, children enter a stage where rigidity is important in all areas, including ideas about gender. If you are a little girl and a princess is upheld to be the epitome of femininity, then that is what you will want to strive for. Or else, in the mind of a four-year-old, you aren’t a little girl. Playing princess and waving wands is not exactly harmful, but the progression of always striving to conform to the societal representation of femininity is not something that any mother wishes for her daughter. Disney Princesses lead to Barbies which lead to Bratz dolls which lead to Britney Spears (or Miley or whoever the next fallen starlet is).

Growing up in the church I was raised with rather conflicting messages about femininity. By the end of a couple of years of Bible college I felt like the church, much like the pigs in Animal Farm, was telling me that God created all of us equal, but that some of us were more equal than others. Women were created in the image of God, but were not allowed to be the head preacher. Women were given the gifts of the Spirit, but were more prone to emotionalism and more easily deceived than our brethren.

I am starting to wonder if my ideas about women being inferior to men have led me to eschew the more obvious aspects of girlie-girl culture. I rail against Cinderella not because there is anything inherently wrong with the story–rather, it so neatly sums up a narrative that I see as too feminine. If men and women are not equal, then I want to be on the winning side. Forget princesses and their boring waiting games. I want action!

So obviously, I am a nut job and have somehow linked Disney with complementarian theology.

But seriously, does anyone else think about these things?

Lucky for me God is using all of my reading and pondering to heal some things and to help me identify some lies that I swallowed unconsciously for a very, very long time (for the record, my parents have never taught me that girls are inferior in any way, shape or form. In fact, my mom is one of my heroes, for she is both sassy and deeply spiritual).

What are your thoughts? If we focus too much on princesses, do we set girls up for a life based on rigid cultural expectations? If we go too far the other way do we teach girls to de-value the feminine aspects of themselves?


One response

  1. krispinm

    I’m so glad you’re my baby mama, Ramona is really lucky to have a mom that thinks about all these things.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:09 am

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